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Medieval & Early Modern Manuscripts and Printed Books

UCL Special Collections holds a significant collection of early modern printed books and several small but important collections of manuscripts dating from the medieval and early modern periods.

An iluminated medieval manuscript fragment.

How to use this guide

This guide is intended as a starting point to help you find resources for your studies or research and is arranged in alphabetical order by collection name.

The collections described below are either Printed Collections or Archives and Records.

To find items from the printed collections, search the library catalogue. Follow the links in the collection descriptions below for advice on how to search and browse particular printed collections.

To find archive and record collections, search for the reference on the online catalogue for UCL’s archives and manuscripts.

Accessing these collections

Please see our website for further information and to make an appointment to view any of these collections in one of our reading rooms.

The collections

Castiglione (Printed Collection)

This collection consists of over 100 editions of Il libro del cortegiano, the courtier’s etiquette and morality book by Renaissance Italian author Baldassare Castiglione. 87 editions date from before 1800, including all five early Aldine editions, and ten English editions printed before 1640.

English Manuscripts (Archive)

Manuscripts written predominantly in the English language, including dialects and historic precursors to modern English. A small collection of 8 items with no shared provenance, arranged approximately in date order.

Euclid (Printed Collection)

This collection is dedicated to editions of the works of Euclid. It comprises of ca. 430 titles, and the collection is particularly strong in early works, with around half of the items dating from before 1800. The collection contains eighty-three editions printed before 1640, including the first edition of the Elements, published by Erhard Ratdolt in Venice in 1482. It also includes the first translations into Italian (1543), German (1562), French (1564), English (1570) and Arabic (1594).

Graves Manuscripts (Archive)

Manuscripts from the Graves Library, bequeathed to UCL in 1870 by John Thomas Graves, Professor of Jurisprudence at UCL 1838-43. There are about 37 manuscript items in this collection, primarily relating to mathematics and astronomy. They range in date from the 15th-19th centuries and are not arranged in any particular order.

Graves (Printed Collection)

The largest book collection dedicated to the history of mathematics in the country. It contains around 9,000 rare books, pamphlets and runs of academic journals, covering the middle ages up to the late nineteenth century, with around half of the collection dating from before 1800. Alongside pure mathematics, represented disciplines include surveying, building, astronomy and astrology, and physics. 

Hebrew and Jewish Collections (Printed Collection)

This collection comprises ca. 21,000 rare books and pamphlets on a wide variety of Jewish topics. The rare book collection comprises the Mocatta, Gollancz, Wolf, Solomons and Myers libraries and dates mostly from 16th-18th centuries, although it also includes 8 incunabula. The subjects covered are chiefly liturgies, Bibles, commentaries, editions of Mishna, works on the Cabbalah, sermons, polemical tracts, service books, grammars and dictionaries. The pamphlets date from 1601 onwards, and are in English, Hebrew, Yiddish and a number of other languages. This collection covers a wide range of subjects from the field of Jewish Studies, particularly Anglo-Jewish history, Zionism, and liturgy.

Hebrew and Jewish Collections (Manuscripts)

The Mocatta Manuscripts collection contains a mixture of religious and non-religious material including prayer books, fragments of the Hebrew bible and the Koran, letters, diaries, calendars and drawings. There are several manuscript items from the medieval and early modern period, including an extremely rare 14th century Castilian Haggadah, and an illuminated 16th century Italian Mahzor with censors’ erasures and signatures. 

Huguenot Library (Printed Collection)

This collection of ca. 6,000 volumes is dedicated to the history of the Huguenots. It is particularly strong in 17th and 18th century material. Included in the collection are individual tales of persecution and conversion, political tracts and pamphlets on religious debate, and histories of the religious wars.

Huguenot Library Archives

Records of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland, including the archives of the Huguenot Society of London and the French Hospital in Victoria Park, Hackney which were deposited at UCL in 1957. This extensive collection includes records of French Protestant churches, schools, hospitals, charities and communities dating from the 16th-20th centuries. 

Incunabula (Printed Collection)

There are 179 works printed before 1501 (so-called ‘incunabula’) in the collections. Subjects include mathematics, astronomy, medicine, theology, literature and astrology. Highlights include the 1477 Vendelin de Spira of Venice edition of Dante's Divina Commedia, the first illustrated edition of the same work printed by Nicholas de Lorenzo in Florence in 1481, a 1493 edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle (given by Jeremy Bentham), the editio princeps of Euclid published by Ratdolt in Venice in 1482, and a handpainted herbal printed in Padua in 1485.

Johnston Lavis (Printed Collection)

A collection of just over 2,000 works from the library of Henry James Johnston Lavis (1856-1914) on volcanology, spanning the early sixteenth century to the early twentieth century. Around 250 items were printed before 1800. 

Landsdowne and Halifax Tracts (Printed Collection)

This collection contains over 4000 pamphlets published in England in the years from 1589 to 1776. The subject matter includes the Union between England and Scotland, the Civil War, the Commonwealth, and the Restoration up to the eve of the American Revolution. Other wars, plots, mutinies and impeachments and conspiracies are also covered.

Latin Manuscripts (Archive)

Manuscripts in Latin. This is a collection of 31 individual items that has accumulated over many years; the items have different provenances and are grouped together because they share a common language. They range in date from the 12th – 19th centuries and showcase many interesting features including a chained book, a palimpsest, volvelles and manuscript fragment endpapers. Some items have bookplates or inscriptions indicating that they belonged at some time to the Phillipps or Graves libraries, but they did not come to UCL as part of the main acquisition of those collections.

London History (Printed Collection)

A collection of ca. 3,000 books, maps, and pamphlets on the topography, architecture, and social and economic history of Greater London. It spans the 16th to the 20th century. Approximately 300 items were printed before 1800.

MS ADD: “Additional Manuscripts” (Archive)

Historically, large archive collections at UCL have been designated a ‘main’ collection and are known by the name of the person or organisation who created them, e.g. ORWELL, BOLSA (Bank of London and South America), BENTHAM, etc. Small collections are designated as ‘additional manuscripts’, and have the reference ‘MS ADD’ followed by a running number, e.g. MS ADD 57. Some MS ADD collections are in fact quite large and the vast majority date from the 19th century onwards. There are a very small number of individual early modern items with a MS ADD reference.  

  • Search Archive ref: MS ADD.
Manuscript Deeds (Archive)

Manuscript deeds of varying dates in a range of languages. They are sub-divided by language, predominantly English (MS DEEDS/ANGLO, 23 items, 1648-1851) and Latin (MS DEEDS/LAT, 3 items, 1200-1319). There is a third group of uncatalogued deeds in other European languages, predominantly dialects of French and Spanish. They date from the 13th-16th centuries and a draft list is available on request.

Manuscript Fragments (Archive)

Fragments of medieval and early modern manuscripts. Around 150 items, of which the vast majority are in Latin. 
The collection has been digitised and can be viewed online.

Ogden Manuscripts (Archive)

Manuscripts acquired as part of the library of the linguist Charles Kay Ogden in 1953. The library contained around 50,000 printed books and manuscripts dating from the medieval period to the 20th century. There are around 150 manuscripts in this collection and they are arranged approximately by date. They cover a range of subjects including theology, law, language and literature.

Within MS Ogden there is a sub-section of early modern commonplace books known as the “Bacon-Tottel” collection, so called because they were believed to have been compiled for Francis Bacon by his clerk William Tottel (or Tothill), although it is now known that this was not the case. This sub-group can be found under the reference MS Ogden 7. A detailed history and list of this collection was compiled by Stuart Clark in 1976 (see further reading section below).

Ogden Library (Printed Collection)

Charles Kay Ogden (1889-1957) amassed this substantial collection of ca. 5,000 volumes. It is broadly built around language, covering such topics as semantics, communication, translation and cryptography. It includes numerous signed and annotated copies by notable early modern figures such as John Dee, Ben Jonson, Christopher Wren, and Francis Bacon.

Phillipps Manuscripts (Archive)

The manuscripts in this collection belonged to Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872), an antiquary and bibliophile whose library included around 60,000 manuscripts of various kinds. The Phillipps Manuscripts held by UCL were presented to the College by the German government in 1912. They are in German and French and mostly relate to the administration of Swiss towns.

Rare Periodicals (Printed Collection)

This collection comprises of runs of over 300 influential international scientific journals from the 17th to the 19th centuries, including key early modern titles such as Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1667-75), Journal des sçavans (1655-1740), and  Nouveaux Mémoires de l'Académie Royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres (1772-1788).

Rotton (Printed Collection)

The library of Sir John Francis Rotton (1838-1926). Out of the 10,000 items that make up this collection, ca. 2,500 items date from before 1800. It is broad in scope, with church history, English literature, philosophy, classical literature, and travel books all represented.

Strong Room B, C and E Rare Books (Printed Collection)

This collection contains the bulk of the early modern books in our holdings. It was created by bringing together books from other collections that were printed between 1501-1640. The sub-collection Strong Room B contains books printed on the British Isles. It is particularly strong in law, history, literature, maths and astronomy. Strong Room C consists of pre-1640 books printed elsewhere. This collection is strong in medical texts, most notably two copies of Vesalius's illustrated De fabrica (1555) and Hans Gersdorff's Feldtbuch der Wundartzney (1530). Another principal strength is early Italian literature. Strong Room E contains particularly noteworthy works printed after 1640, such as the first edition of Newton's Principia (1687).